A lighter look at life in Hong Kong

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - AL­BERT LIN The au­thor is the Op-Ed ed­i­tor of China Daily Hong Kong Edi­tion. al­bertlin@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

What bet­ter way for el­derly folks to while away a cou­ple of hours than by join­ing in the fun of a bit of mahjong among the en­joy­able com­pany of friends and neigh­bors? There’s some­thing about the clack and crash of those tiles be­ing slammed on the ta­ble top that stirs the blood in many a tired old vein, plus the lit­tle thrill the play­ers get when they fi­nally see what tiles the magic hand of chance has al­lo­cated them at the start of a new game. Of course no player worth his or her salt would hes­i­tate to put down a lit­tle stake on the game, hop­ing Lady Luck will smile on them just this once.

But wait. The other day a very dif­fer­ent sort of new hand sud­denly be­came in­volved in these friendly con­tests — a hand that be­longed to the long arm of the law!

Yes, the re­cent crack­down on “un­der­ground mahjong clubs” in Shau Kei Wan’s main road has given our sil­ver society quite a jolt. Weren’t they aware that they were in­dulging in il­le­gal gam­bling? Those “ta­ble stakes” of a cou­ple of scruffy ban­knotes and some coins was ob­vi­ous proof of their guilt.

The po­lice op­er­a­tion was planned with metic­u­lous care to make sure none of the guilty leapt up and did an un­likely “run­ner”, out­sprint­ing lithe young cop­pers with a 50-year age ad­van­tage. All were caught red-handed with no chance of es­cape. Was a “com­bined op­er­a­tion” by 60-plus cop­pers ever more smoothly brought to a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion than this?

On top of which no less a sum than an ag­gre­gate of HK$8,000 in ta­ble stakes was con­fis­cated, con­firm­ing the ru­n­away suc­cess of the op­er­a­tion.

So what can the oldies of Shau Kei Wan — and any­where else in Hong Kong, for that mat­ter — do to com­bat their bore­dom now their lit­tle games of “mahjong with cap­i­tal­ist char­ac­ter­is­tics” have been de­clared out of bounds by the au­thor­i­ties?

What else but stay in their stuffy lit­tle bed-sits, reach for a cig­a­rette and watch TV. Or per­haps meet with a friend at the lo­cal park, and share a seat for an ex­tended ses­sion of rock-paper-scis­sors at a dol­lar a pop?

Is that the re­ward the pros­per­ous com­mu­nity of Hong Kong owes our aged and re­tired work­force that helped cre­ate the Hong Kong eco­nomic mir­a­cle of the 1970s on­wards? Or there are no higher law-and-or­der pri­or­i­ties for our finest to tackle? I don’t think so.

Let us now turn to an­other heavy le­gal bur­den which lately has rested on the shoul­ders of a mag­is­trate and, on sub­se­quent ap­peal, a judge. Can the noise of a man whose whis­tle is par­tic­u­larly high-pitched and painfully pen­e­trat­ing to the air drums con­sti­tute as­sault, although no phys­i­cal force is used by the whistler and not one fin­ger is laid on those at whom that whis­tle is aimed?

Yes, it does, two dif­fer­ent courts have ruled — in­cur­ring a six-week stay in jail for Ki Chun-kei, a con­struc­tion worker ap­par­ently with a pierc­ing style of whistling who gave three po­lice­men an ear-split­ting “spray” of high deci­bels dur­ing some heated mo­ments at the July 1 protest march last year.

His two main vic­tims were try­ing to main­tain law and or­der dur­ing the protest, and tes­ti­fied that Ki’s whistling caused ring­ing in their ears, while a third po­lice­man said he had to step back to es­cape the blast.

Le­gal purists are still ar­gu­ing about the rights and wrongs of the de­ci­sion – which pos­si­bly might be ap­pealed against yet again — while Ki is per­haps al­ready prac­tic­ing his whis­tle in — ahem — a lower key.

And now we weigh up yet an­other le­gal mat­ter — that HK$110,000 fine slapped on Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, wife of the man-who-would-be chief ex­ec­u­tive, Henry Tang Ying-yan, over that no­to­ri­ous il­le­gal base­ment in their man­sion in York Road, Kowloon Tong. Ap­par­ently it sported a wine cel­lar, home theatre, gym and Ja­panese-style bath-tub. Also it is sup­posed oc­ca­sion­ally to have been squeezed into ser­vice as a re­cep­tion area for cock­tail par­ties and other so­cial gath­er­ings at which heaven only knows what in­flu­en­tial govern­ment fig­ures might have been among the guests — hope­fully not the direc­tor of build­ings!

What­ever their de­gree of sever­ity, all crimes carry a penalty, and in 73 pre­vi­ous cases of il­le­gal al­ter­ations the max­i­mum penalty had been a rather gen­teel HK$15,000, prompt­ing Mr Tang to re­mark af­ter­wards that the fine of HK$110,000 was a bit “se­vere” com­pared with ear­lier penal­ties.

Not to worry, Sir — we are com­forted by the thought that it’s just about the cost of a case of your fa­vorite tip­ple as a well-known bon vi­vant.

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